Saturday, April 17, 2010

- 999 men plus the goat


The tradition of goat mascots in the military dates back 200 years, from at least 1775. The history of the regimental goat dates back to the American War of Independence in 1775 when a wild goat wondered into a battlefield in Boston, and ended up leading the Welsh regimental Colours off the battlefield at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Since then a goat has served with the Battalion. In 1884, Queen Victoria presented the regiment, then called the Royal Welch Fusiliers, with a Kashmir goat from her royal herd, and a tradition was started. The British Monarchy has presented an unbroken series of Kashmir goats to the Royal Welch Fusiliers from the Crown's own royal herd. The royal goat herd was originally obtained from Mohammad Shah Qajar, Shah of Persia from 1834-1948, when he presented them to Queen Victoria as a gift in 1837 upon her accession to the throne.

All the goats are called William Windsor or Billy for short. Their primary duty is to march at the head of the battalion on all ceremonial event. The present Billy was chosen from a herd of goats living on the Great Orme in Llandudno in June 2009. After his selection, months of work followed to get him used to his fellow soldiers and to make him learn what is expected of him. As the goat progressed, he was taught to get used to sounds and noises coming from marching soldiers.

The predecessor mascot, a Kashmir goat from the royal herd at Whipsnade Zoo, was presented to the Regiment by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001. Following eight years of distinguished military service, he retired in 20 May 2009 due to his age. As he left Dale Barracks, Chester for the last time, hundreds of soldiers from the Battalion lined the route from his pen to the trailer to say farewell and thank you for his many years of good service. He was led into the trailer by the battalion's Goat Major in full ceremonial dress that included a silver headdress which was a gift from the Queen in 1955. He was taken to Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire where he is spending his honourable retirement. Zoo keepers say he is having an easy life at the Children's Farm.

The goat is more than a mascot. It is a full member of the battalion and in the days gone by, when it was a 1,000-strong unit, it was 999 men plus the goat. As a soldier, the goat can move up the ranks. It starts as a Fusilier and if it is well behaved and does well on parades, quite often it is promoted to Lance Corporal, a non-commissioned officer rank. As a full member of the battalion, he is accorded the full status and privileges of the rank. These include membership in the Corporals' Mess and the right to be saluted by his subordinates. The goat mascot that just retired in 20 May 2009 was a Lance Corporal.

There are perks to the job of regimental mascot. Billy gets a two-a-day cigarette ration (He eats them, as traditionally, the tobacco is thought to be good for the coat.) and Guinness to drink when he is older "to keep the iron up".

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